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Debates Commission Seeks to Prevent Repeat of Trump-Biden Debacle


FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Sept. 29, 2020.
FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Sept. 29, 2020.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said it intends to tighten the format before President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden face off again after their initial encounter Tuesday was widely panned as the worst debate in American political history.

The two candidates frequently interrupted each other or talked at the same time, with debate moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, rebuking Trump for failing to adhere to rules allowing both candidates to answer questions unimpeded.

The independent commission that organizes the debates said the format needs additional structure “to ensure a more orderly discussion” after Tuesday’s chaotic affair at a university in the Midwestern city of Cleveland, Ohio.

The commission said it would soon impose new restrictions before the second and third Trump-Biden debates, set for October 15 and 22.

Some critics of the first encounter between the candidates suggested cutting off the microphone of either Trump or Biden when the other was speaking.

Trump, during a Wednesday evening political rally at an airport in Duluth, Minnesota, declared himself the winner of the debate and criticized the moderator, saying, “I was debating two people last night” – Biden and Wallace.

The president suggested his opponent might not show up for the future debates.

“Now I understand he’s canceling the debates. Let’s see what happens. That’s not going to be a good move for him,” said Trump in the Upper Midwestern battleground state of Minnesota that he narrowly lost in 2016 but hopes to recapture against Biden.

The Democratic Party nominee told reporters in the swing state of Ohio on Wednesday “I am looking forward” to debating Trump again.

Uncivil Debate Highlights America's Deep Political Divide
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Biden characterized the president’s performance the previous evening as “a national embarrassment.”

An exasperated Biden also came in for criticism for disparaging Trump, such as calling him a clown and telling the president to “shut up.”

“The kinds of things that we saw last night in the debate are exactly the kinds of things that erode democracy. That in fact, our democracy is at risk and you can tell, by the way that political leaders talk to one another,” Jennifer Mercieca, a professor of political communication at Texas A&M University, told VOA.

While the president headed to Minnesota on Wednesday for a multimillion-dollar private fundraiser and the outdoor rally, Biden embarked on a train tour of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, a pair of adjacent states Trump won four years ago against Democrat Hillary Clinton but where polls show the former vice president has pulled ahead of the president.

In nationwide polling, the challenger is leading the president. However, a handful of states, mostly in the Midwest, will likely determine which candidate captures the minimum 270 electoral votes needed to become president.

After pillorying each other in Tuesday’s debate as unfit to lead the country for the next four years, Trump and Biden resumed their attacks Wednesday on Twitter.

Trump claimed, “Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!).” The president said Biden “disrespected” Bernie Sanders by “effectively calling him a loser!” Sanders, the Vermont senator who is a leader of the Democrats’ progressive wing, was the last remaining Democratic contender competing against Biden for the party’s presidential nomination before conceding the race to him earlier this year.

Biden offered his assessment of the debate, saying, “You heard a lot come out of President Trump’s mouth. Can you name one thing he said to actually make your life better?”

In a video, the Biden campaign attacked Trump for declining during the debate to reject the support of white supremacists.

“There’s no other way to put it: the president of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night,” the Biden campaign said.

The video showed a snapshot of Trump saying “Stand back and stand by” when referring to the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group with several hundred members.

White supremacist groups seemingly rejoiced on social media in reaction to Trump’s debate stage remark, tweeting in response, “Standing by sir.”

Speaking to reporters, prior to leaving the White House on Wednesday, the president said he is not familiar with the Proud Boys.

“I really don’t know who they are,” said Trump. "I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”